“You might not find any wifi in the forest, but I promise you’ll find a better connection”
For the better part of the last decade, any weekend with time to spare and sun to catch magically evolved into a festival fueled adventure somewhere along the West Coast. Over the last few years, our festival family reunion and pre-Summer kickoff was Lightning in a Bottle – delightfully and delectably getting us ready for the rest of festival season. When the time came this year to figure out where we wanted to lounge lavishly and enjoy each others company, we took a long hard look at the growth we’ve elicited from ourselves at Lighting in a Bottle – which comes easily when you’re surrounded by the prismatic love, light and laughter of the event. Each year, though challenging for individually unique reasons, provided the perfect platform to acknowledge myself in the moment and grow from it. Paired with sweeping landscapes and myriads of magical music, I almost dare you not to be moved – because I have been, over and over and over again.
Even as I describe what we didn’t experience this year, I feel blessed and gifted with my past experiences. As I marinate in my own newfound maturity, I amuse myself in what I’ve become – knowing full well that growth is synonymous with growing pains, and I effectively feel like I’ve graduated from a phase of my life, and of myself. All together, these thoughts synthesized themselves in a way that made me opt for a new journey for Memorial day this time around the sun. So, instead of feverishly packing our apartment to fit inside a tent, we packed an overnight bag and it was off, off and away to Big Bear for a weekend of sun and fun with a few friends that have become a hell of a lot more like family over the last few years.
Just a hop, skip and a few hour drive into San Bernadino, Big Bear already sits at an elevation of nearly 7,000′ – even before you head out on your hike or snow inspired romp through the woods, and has a little bit of something for everyone – granted that everyone’s a bit of a nature nut. We might have cut our lodging options short by not planning our trip until literally three days before the weekend, but thanks to AirBnB finding an a beautiful place to stay – fully equipped with patios and a hot tub on a budget – was super easy.
After to getting into town late Friday night, on Saturday morning the group made a bomb little breakfast and got to packing for our hike. Several sandwiches, a few mixed drinks and some salacious snackables later and we were off, off and away for what turned out to be an intense but well worth it hike up Gray’s Peak Trail. All together, the hike up Gray’s Peak is about Seven Miles each way with 1300′ to climb in elevation. One thing we didn’t know beforehand, but damn well are sure of now: at about 8000′ in elevation is when people start toying with altitude sickness and at approximately 8300′ – at times, you could really tell that we weren’t in Kansas at sea level anymore.
Even though the few websites we found on the hike claimed that it was great for kids, my friends and I can attest that those kids must be jacked up on Mountain Dew because we all had our collective asses handed to us. There were a lot of fun ‘turnouts’ – if that’s what they’re even called if you’re not in a car – that got us to jump off the beaten path and forge our own trail, but in a respectful way – of course. There were a few places with tiny streams, stemming from the base of the mountain and loads of little lizards running amuck every which way. Near 8k’, you could tell that the trees were starting to be weathered under the altitude but that all changed when you got near the pinnacle, it literally felt like you’d walked through a portal and into Fern Gully. There’s a couple things that make this a Summer hike in my book – like the incline and the potential weather, but it also turns out that the trailhead is closed for public use between December and April because it’s in the middle of a bald eagle wintering habitat area – how effing neat!
Packing Pro Tips
Make sure everyone has enough water, and a backpack between two people is perfect. Layers, extra socks, hiking shoes cause you want your ankles.
Things I’ve learned as a novice hiker, but expert adventurer:
- Cameras are always a must, sure your phone has one – but point and shoots are fun, too! Make sure you take at least one group photo before you head up the trail and into the sweat zone – yeah, now you get it. Extra points if you remember to bring a collapsible tripod – you’ll really be your groups MVP, most valuable photographer.
- Your phone has a compass on it, don’t be afraid to use it – but also, put that thing away and enjoy the hike!
- Hydration is key, super key. Drinking and hiking is fun, but in the Summer it’s not the smartest – make sure you’ve got enough water for the walk up, and the walk back; plus, being more hydrated makes the drunk more fun – if you’re into that type of thing 😉
- A bag per every two people is appropriate, that way you can also switch off with carrying duty – make sure you toss in some sammies and full bars for meals, and for snackables both nuts and dried fruit have a lot of protein. Last, but not least if you’re weird like me and don’t really enjoy chewing – throw in a few ensures to top it off.
- Everybody loves layers – especially for hikes. Bring an change of socks in case you encounter water, shorts / pants depending on what you start off in and a hoodie.
- Do a gut check with everyone before the hike starts and make sure everyone’s comfortable with the adventure ahead, you never know who’s in super great shape, or who might have some hesitations about an all day excursion.
- Leaves of three, let them be. Poison Oak is no joke and usually it’s kept off the trail – if you’re like me and like to forge your own path, know what it looks like…or better yet, just wear pants.
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